There are many things that lead to great landscape photography. Understanding and using color theory is one of them.
Here are 10 tips for using color theory to give your landscapes a visual boost.
1. Get Into Color Theory
Color in photography plays an important role. It determines how we perceive an image. By analysing colours and their relationships with one another, colour theory seeks to define this.
Colors have different psychological associations (we’ll have a look at those later). Different combinations of color determine how a photograph is comprehended.
Familiarising yourself with color theory allows you to predict and identify successful/unsuccessful applications of color. You’ll get better at creating images with emotional depth and visual interest.
2. Understand Color Theory and the Landscape
Since the invention of color photography, color has been a driving force behind the reading of a photograph. Color theory gives photographers the tools to assess colors in terms of their visual relationship to each other.
In landscape photography, subject matter can range from the monochromatic to scenes that run the full gamut of the visible spectrum.
Color theory allows landscape photographers to harness the make-up of a landscape. You’ll figure out what harmonises or disrupts an image long before you take the image. This will save you time and help you create better images.
3. Check out the Color Wheel
So what are color relationships? Enter, the color wheel.
It dates back to the 18th century and it’s still used by visual artists today. The traditional color wheel is a simple visualisation of colors and their interconnection with each other.
Within the color wheel, the primary colors (red, yellow, blue), secondary colors (purple, orange and green) and tertiary colors (vermilion, amber, chartreuse, teal, violet and magenta) all come together in a readable format.
All creative applications of color exist within the color wheel. This allows photographers to refer back to the tool as a handy guide. Here is a version below:
Familiarise yourself with the color wheel. You’ll understand how colors interact when placed close to each other.
This is the bedrock of color theory. It’s the visual basis on which effective color relationships are founded.
4. Get to Know Complementary Colors
Complementary colors lie opposite each other on the color wheel. They create the strongest contrast possible when used in combination with each other.
They cause a visual vibration when near each other and make an image pop.
Looking at the color wheel below we can see that colors like red and green or blue and orange are opposite each other. These are common combinations of complementary colors.
5. Say hi to Split Complementary Colors
These are a variation of the complementary color scheme. Split complementary colors pair a base color with the two colors adjacent to its complementary color.
Vermilion, (whose complementary color on the color wheel is teal) is grouped with green and blue instead.
A split complementary color scheme produces colors with adequate contrast. But they have greater subtlety than complementary colors.
6. Experiment With Analogous Colors
Analogous colors neighbour each other on the color wheel. Analogous schemes like teal, blue and violet flow into one another. They create harmony in an image.
In a landscape photo, you can use analogous groupings like autumnal reds, vermilion, and oranges or marine greens, teals, and blues. These create depth and visual resonance.
7. Try Triad Colors
Triad colors are any three colors that are spaced three colors apart on the color wheel. A selection of red, yellow and blue or orange, purple and green are triad groupings of color.
In landscape photography, triad colors generate harmonious yet eye-catching color schemes.
They enhance the dynamic relationship between colors in the natural environment.
8. Fire up With Warm Colors
Color theory describes the relationships between individual colors. And it groups them by their overall visual atmosphere.
Like the color wheel, the concept of warm and cool colors has had significant influence on visual art since at least the late 18th century.
Warm colors are understood to be hues from red through yellow. These include the oft-forgotten shades of brown which are prominent in landscape photography.
Associated with sunlight and heat, warm colors appear closer to the viewer, stimulating a sense of immediacy and visual activity.
In landscape photography, warm light is often best encountered during golden hour. This is a window of daylight that renders the landscape in immersive, warm tones.
9. Chill out With Cool Colors
Like warm colors, cool colors have properties and associations linked to their presence in the natural landscape. Cool colors tend to diminish into the background of an image. This makes the surrounding space appear larger.
Cool colors such as blue, green, grey and violet evoke a sense of calm and relaxation. Blue hour, which occurs before sunrise in the morning and after sunset in the evening, lends an ethereal blue tone to the surrounding landscape.
Our associations with cold colors link cool-colored landscape photography with a sense of peace, quiet and reflection.
10. Figure out Feelings
Color and emotion are inextricably linked. Color theory studies the relationships between colors. It can also examine how our behaviour is shaped by the 7 million shades discernible to the human eye.
In photography, the viewer relies on color as a visual cue to convey the emotional climate of the photograph. You can use this to create interest and emotional weight in your landscape images. Colors can also help hint at the weather or season your photo was taken in.
Here are some popular landscape colors and the emotions they evoke.
A calming color, blue illustrates the expanse of a landscape. It inspires awe and generates visual space.
As a cool color, purple has a calming effect. Rare in nature, purple has become associated with exoticism and beauty.
One of the most abundant colors in landscape photography, green manifests in organic life. Its cool tones create peace and tranquillity.
Orange is often encountered in the sunsets of landscape photography. As a warm color, orange inspires happiness and passion.
Browns in landscape photography illustrate the earth. Brown is a visual anchor. It shows a viewer the condition of an environment.
Landscape photographers work within a very diverse genre of photography. There is no single factor to dictate the positive outcome of a landscape image. But colour theory is a tool that can significantly boost the impact of a photograph.
Color theory explores the whys and hows behind the colors in a photograph. Become familiar with the fundamentals of color theory. You will then be able to recognise and capture photographs with greater efficiency and success.